It's all pretty confusing. Everyone I talk to is pretty sure their flavor is right. I want to make sense of it all, make sense of what God is trying to say to me. So I pick up the Bible. Old Testament. New Testament. King James. The Message. New International. New Revised Standard. New Living. Torah. Greek. Hebrew. Aramaic. Well, that doesn't help much, either. And among the confusion, these keep echoing:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.-Deut 6:4.
There is One God. One Faith, One Baptism. Eph 4: 5-6
I was reading this morning about Ilana Kurshan, a New York expat Jew living in Jerusalem, studying and teaching Torah, the Hebrew Bible. Now, as Midwestern Christians, we think of Jews as truncated Christians, a flawed ungrateful people, constantly forgetting about God's mercies and complaining while they trudged through the desert, chanting meaningless prayers and fingering the silly tassels on their robes. But one thing they do is study the Bible. In their own way, just like we do, trying to understand what it means and how to use ancient texts as guides to modern life.
"I believe," she says, "that Torah is divine. But for me this does not mean that God handed the entire Written and Oral Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Rather, Sinai is the human record of an encounter with God"
This is where I stopped. I stopped reading and heard the echo of what I'd been taught. The Bible is inerrant. Its words are not to be altered, jot or tittle. Its words are our perfect guide to life and decision making. "All scripture is breathed by God"- 2Tim 3:16. Okay, I'll buy that, but which Scripture? The Protestant Bible? The Catholic? The Jewish? (Read it before you turn up your nose. It's pretty amazing)
Kurshan further says, "This record has had to be adapted to later generations, both to changing historical circumstances and to evolving theological understandings" These adaptations are called Midrash in Jewish tradition, commentary and exegis in Christian tradition. She goes on. "In high school, my students had surely learned, as I had, the difference between natural numbers and rational numbers. Natural numbers are integers: 1,2,3, etc. Rational numbers are the decimals in between, including 1.1, 1.12, 1.23378. Both sets are infinite, but only the rational numbers are infinitely dense, meaning there are an infinite number of rational numbers between any two natural numbers. In the Torah, there are in infinite number of midrashim, or reinterpretations, that are possible...Midrash is the creative commentary that reworks and retells the Bible so as to render it ever relevant."
Now, she and I are on the same road, using similar measures and signposts. The Bible as relevant. Yes, please.
But there is danger up ahead. I mean, how many times can one thing be reinterpreted and still be faithful to the original? How long will it be until the original meaning has been divided out and left behind? God and I, after all, do not think alike. How can I trust either myself or anyone else to stay true to what God intended to say in the first place? After all, critics of the Bible are quick to point out the endless translations and interpretations. Who's right in dealing with God's word, when it's so critical that we deal rightly with it? "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." 2Tim 2:15. Believe me, I'm trying.
So is Kurshan. "The Talmud at the end of Sanhedrin 99a explains that even someone who challenges the divinity of any single verse in the Torah is denied a place in the world to come...There is a fine line, I recognize, between extolling the creative possibilities of midrash and declaring the Torah can say anything we want it to."
So that's it. The Bible needs interpretation if it's to be useful, but that very interpretation can take us far away from what God intended. And we all agree on that. Jew. Christian. Catholic. Protestant. We have one goal. But how to reach it? By looking beyond the word. Looking to God-infinitely loving, perfectly righteous, endlessly holy. That, at least, we can all agree on.
And, actually, we're dealing with one text. The Old Testament as given to the Jews and its completion in the New Testament. One God. One Word, with the epistles as the first commentators. What about Jesus, you ask? He's already answered that. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." - Matt 15-17.
Jesus gave us the example. The Bible is meant for us to use. We are not meant to worship the word. We are meant to worship God. In interpretation, God is our backstop. We cannot go beyond Who He is.
There is one God. There is one Word. There is one Truth. Our job is not to find what separates us and so elevate ourselves, but what unites us before that one God. To sift together through what He gave us in both word and tradition to find out how to live to honor Him and each other.
This text was given by God into stumbling human hands. To Moses. To prophets. To apostles. It is a "human record of an encounter with God." And, if we use it right, the encounter continues.
Lord God, bring me to your the foot of your mountain and let me hear you speak.